Inspiring Works

I’ve been thinking a lot about the choices I make as I’ve been working on my homebrew game system and how I game master. Many of the blogs I read have been engaging in a little navel-gazing lately and writing about their inspirations, as well as the games they play that make up their gaming identity.

I decided looking back at what I love to read and watch would be a worthwhile way to examine my inspirations and help me, maybe, get back on track with being more positive about gaming. The post I wrote ended up being a huge, rambling autobiographic piece that I really didn’t think needed sharing (at the risk of boring everyone to death) but I did like the list I generated of some of the pieces that influence my thinking the most when it comes to gaming…

Enjoy, and I hope you’ll participate by telling me about your influences in the comments. Maybe I’ll find something I’ve missed.

Thundarr the Barbarian – kind of a no-brainer, but I still love this cartoon after all these years.
Pirates of Dark Water – I’m betting this is on a lot of lists.
Talespin – may seem like an odd choice to some but it’s got awesome stories, is fairly literate and referential.
Gargoyles – Classic, literate, excellent stories
Thundercats – Yep. Thundercats.
Transformers – because Optimus Prime is still the coolest hero ever. Seriously.

Highlander – The first fantasy movie I ever remember seeing. I know I saw other things before this, but it’s the first I really remember.
Star Wars IV, V, VI – I don’t need to say anything.
Indiana Jones – The first three movies really… well, I don’t think I need to say too much about these either.
Krull – very high wahoo-factor.
Clash of the Titans – the original is still a great fantasy movie.
Tron – I’ve spent so many hours watching Tron. I can’t wait for the new one.
Kill Bill, part one – I’m not the biggest Tarantino fan but something about this movie just sticks with me and I love watching it.
Treasure Planet – A lesser known Disney effort but in my opinion one of the best. I never get tired of this movie.
The Dark Crystal – the strangeness and tone of this film really appeals to me.
Flight of Dragons – One of my all-time favorites. Probably the only movie I look to for inspiration more is the next one.
The Last Unicorn – This, for me, is the greatest fantasy movie of all time. The perfect balance of heroes and witches and mythical creatures and tragedy and mortality and… well, let’s just say, whenever I can’t find my way out of writers’ block, or GM block or whatever you want to call it, this is my go-to movie.

Esther Friesner – Death and the Librarian.
Peter S. Beagle – Anything, but especially, A Fine and Private Place and The Innkeeper’s Song.
P.C. Hodgell – God Stalk
Robert E. Howard – Conan, Kull, and Solomon Kane are huge favorites.
H.G. Wells – Anything, but my favorite is The Island of Dr. Moreau.
Guy Gavriel Kay – EVERYTHING, but especially Tigana.
H.P. Lovecraft – I like Cthulhu as well as the next guy, but I’m mostly a fan of the Dream Cycle stories.
Jack Vance – The Dying Earth stories
David Eddings – The Belgariad and the Mallorean. I’m not a fan of anything else he’s written but these two shaped my thinking about fantasy for a long time.
Roger Zelazny – The Chronicles of Amber. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you that I’ve spent more time thinking about Amber than any rational human being should… other than Zelazny.
James P. Blaylock – The Elfin Ship and The Disappearing Dwarf. Copies of these are hard to find, but I read them both at least once a year. If you find these anywhere they should not be passed up.
Tamora Pierce – The Song of the Lioness Quartet and any of the other books set in Tortall. I don’t normally go in for Romantic Fantasy, but this series transcends that, and shaped my early adolescence as a fantasy lover.
Lloyd Alexander – The Prydain Chronicles. Don’t ever judge them by Disney’s awful version of The Black Cauldron, these are well worth reading.
Alice Hoffman – Practical Magic. The movie was decent, but the book is a completely different experience. Not a traditional fantasy novel, but worth a read for anyone.

* I did not list the Chronicles of Narnia or the Tolkien books here. I read them, I enjoyed them, but they really never enter into my thinking when I game.

(Musicals? Really? Yep.)
Three musicals really changed my thinking when I saw/heard them and still weigh on my mind whenever I am planning a story.
Camelot – My favorite version of the King Arthur story.
Jesus Christ Superstar – The Perfect Rock Opera.
Man of La Mancha – Too good for words. Perhaps the only thing as influential on my thinking as The Last Unicorn.

— I’m sure I’ve forgotten some but I’m happy to say that these are the most common and constant inspirations. These are the works I return to for inspiration over and over again. Other things I’ve read and loved over the years are important, but these are at the core of my thinking when I think about “fantasy.”

Thanks for reading, and share your own inspirations if you like. I’ll be back on Monday and talk a little about the games I love.


One response

  1. I look for stuff with effective villains, so…


    Hellraiser I & II: The cenobites are basically the inspiration for the kytons in DnD, and I’m running a game set in Baator as we speak.

    No Country for Old Men: Chigurh is a wonderful combination of relentless and philosophical.

    Event Horizon: The villain is good enough, and the setting is very atmospheric.

    Serenity: The Operative is dedicated and philosophical in a very useful way.

    Dark City: Love the atmosphere.

    In the Mouth of Madness: A really good job of portraying creeping inevitable doom.


    Moderan by Robert Bunch: I’d actually love to run an RPG set in Moderan, if it was possible in any way…

    Neuromancer: Interesting setting, and the main character manages to be a self-serving douche throughout, without suddenly becoming a “good guy.”

    Old game books: Old Warhammer/40k/Dnd sourcebooks set a much better tone for my games than their current editions.

    I pick up random fantasy novels to remind myself what not to do in a game, though I honestly don’t read much besides sourcebooks anymore.

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